Tags: U.N. | Council | Debates | Jenin | Probe

U.N. Council Debates Jenin Probe

Thursday, 02 May 2002 12:00 AM

Diplomats, at nearly 2 a.m. EDT Thursday, said they hoped to agree on the final version at a 10:30 a.m. meeting.

The letter was decided on, the diplomats said, when Syrian and Tunisian sponsors of a draft resolution calling for Annan "to proceed with the dispatching of the fact-finding team" and demanding Israel's cooperation, realized that they had failed to muster enough votes.

Passage requires nine yes votes, including those of all five veto-wielding permanent members; Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Washington had threatened to veto the draft measure, which Syria and Tunisia anticipated.

However, after members of the council filed into the formal council chamber to take the vote, the sponsors realized they did not even have the support of eight council members, who planned to abstain, according to several diplomats.

This meant the United States would not have to defeat the draft resolution since it would sink of its own weight.

At the last minute the draft was withdrawn "temporarily" to limbo, where it remains, to be brought out when Syria, the only Arab member of the panel, decides it wants to bring it to a vote.

"It was a very strange evening, I can tell you," said an official of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

"What a night," said a British diplomat, adding, "It was pretty clear it was their intention to get a veto."

Asked why, he replied: "That's a question for them, isn't it?"

The Arab Group has been coming to the council during the current crisis with a variety of draft measures – U.S. officials have come to call it "resolution fatigue." The Arab Group knew it faced a United States veto but still sought a vote with the goal of forcing Washington to show its support of Israel, and therefore cast the United States in an anti-Arab light.

Each time, Washington has successfully headed off such a move by coming up with its own draft resolution or steering the council to a statement. This was the first time during this crisis that it came as close as this to a veto.

"We had very extensive discussions about the letter sent to us about the fact-finding mission," said a weary Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, this month's rotating president of the council, referring to Annan's Wednesday missive detailing reasons why he intended to disband the team Thursday.

"We had a very extensive exchange of views," said the envoy, his voice heavy with fatigue. "We agreed that the council should draft a response to be sent to the secretary-general and we are in the process of drafting the response ... and to meet early again this morning to dispatch the letter to the secretary-general. By then, hopefully, you will see what the response contains."

Several diplomats relayed nearly identical versions of the gist of what the council intended to say in the letter.

"The secretary-general conveyed his intention and we took note of his intention and the decision will be made by him," said Mahbubani. "I apologize for the brevity of my comments, but I can assure you that it has been a very long and arduous session where I hope ... members of the council have a better understanding of where we all stand on this issue."

The U.S. official said he expects the team will be disbanded as the secretary-general intends.

"You know we supported the secretary-general when he proposed the idea of going," the U.S. official said. "We regret the decision he has taken, but we support his decision. The one common theme throughout the night was the importance of supporting his efforts."

However, Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast earlier told reporters, "The idea of a fact-finding team wasn't the secretary-general's in the first place. The idea was actually an Israeli idea. It was only on the basis of assurances from two Israeli ministers of full Israeli cooperation that the secretary-general went ahead and that was the basis that the American government tabled [the] resolution endorsing Annan's 'initiative,' as it was dubbed.

"I think the secretary-general thought it was a good idea and in everybody's interest to have an impartial and accurate, credible, comprehensive report on the facts in Jenin. So of course he regrets that it is not now going to be possible," said Prendergast, the man who led the U.N. team in talks last week with the Israeli delegation of experts seeking "clarifications" on the team's composition and scope and objectives.

Annan originally wanted his team, formed April 22, to go into the camp last Friday after allegations of war crimes and even an Israeli massacre, which were later largely debunked. The Israelis sought several delays, finally saying Tuesday that they could not accept the team under the current conditions spelled out by the United Nations and sought yet additional "clarifications."

There was a fierce firefight during the Israeli assault on Jenin early last month where, Israel said, 23 of its soldiers were killed -- slightly more than twice that number of Palestinian fighters, Israel has said, were slain along with several civilians.

Palestinians had claimed far higher casualties on their side, initially in the hundreds, some even in the thousands.

A reporter asked Prendergast if a country destined for a similar fact-finding mission "can stonewall the United Nations for weeks and it will back down?"

Prendergast said: "I think it's the acceptance of the reality that it's not possible to do the job properly without the full cooperation of the government of Israel and I think that what has changed is that the cooperation was assured in the beginning and the cooperation has been withdrawn for reasons which you will have to ask the government of Israel."

The three-man fact-finding commission was appointed April 22 by Annan following a resolution of the Security Council. The members were Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata and the former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Cornelio Sommaruga.

Annan said their mission was "to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp," following allegations that Israeli soldiers committed war crimes and massacred civilians there.

Jenin was the site of the fiercest fighting in the recent Israeli incursion into Palestinian territory. Officials of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority have said hundreds of civilian residents of the camp were killed. Amnesty International has said that it has found preliminary evidence that Israeli soldiers violated the Geneva conventions and other laws of war, for instance using civilians as human shields, denying medical assistance to the wounded, deliberately targeting ambulances and demolishing homes while their residents were still inside.

The Israeli military has denied that it carried out a massacre and says its three-week incursion into the camp was necessary to "uproot an infrastructure of terror." It says that it tried to minimize civilian casualties – for example, eschewing the use of air power – and in doing so, put the lives of its soldiers at risk. It says that the camp was a legitimate military target, and that armed Palestinians broke the laws of war by booby-trapping homes, using ambulances to transport fighters who were not wounded and deliberately taking shelter among civilians.

Twenty-three Israeli soldiers died in the incursion, and so far, the bodies of about 100 Palestinians have been recovered. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that "a great deal of destruction" was visited on the camp by Israeli armored bulldozers – which U.N. officials say left more than 1,000 residents homeless – but that he has "yet to see evidence of a massacre."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Diplomats, at nearly 2 a.m. EDT Thursday, said they hoped to agree on the final version at a 10:30 a.m. meeting. The letter was decided on, the diplomats said, when Syrian and Tunisian sponsors of a draft resolution calling for Annan to proceed with the dispatching of...
Thursday, 02 May 2002 12:00 AM
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